At the end of summer 2019, I decided to take a break from marathons and triathlons and instead go for a swim in 2020. By mid-September I was working with a coach for "a few pointers" which turned into a complete overhaul of my freestyle stroke. Turns out ideas about efficient swimming had changed in the 20+ years since I first learned to swim freestyle in earnest, which was when I was at what was at the time called the "sport akademie"). Since then, I have learned a lot about swimming. Turns out, there are two camps, two philosophies, on swimming. The camp I stumbled into by randomly picking a coach without even knowing about said camps is called full immersion. This camp believes in swimming with the entire body, engaging the core, hips, back; not just the shoulders. Proponents tend to talk metaphor: "swim downhill", "swim through the tunnel", "patient lead arm", "swim quietly" are just a few. I also changed my kick from a flutter-kick to the so-called two beat kick, which is, I've been told, the way to go in choppy waters. I gave myself till Christmas to relearn and perfect my freestyle stroke as much as possible. Now that the new year has arrived, it's time to swim more, longer, with more intervals and also to start strategizing for my three 2020 swims, which are, in chronological order, the Skaha Lake ultra swim (11.8km), then the Ijsselmeer crossing (22km), and then in the fall, the Alcatraz to San Francisco swim (a mere 3km but the waters are cold, choppy and there are sharks, so there's that). To help fight boredom (inevitable in the pool), I bought an underwater MP3 player, so I am rocking it out in the pool to Passenger and Meatloaf (bucket list item to sing this in a Karaoke bar; always been my pick-me-up song when getting tired in marathons or triathlons, so know it inside out. Can do both voices too.)
My main challenge is, of course, the Ijsselmeer swim. I have, however, a terrific support team for that swim, even though all members initially questioned my mental state with one person texting me back after reading my request, "Dearest Gerda. Have you gone mad?"
Just after Christmas, I went to Europe with a friend. She sent me a text while I was at the grocery store, saying "would you like to go to Czech Republic around Christmas to watch the Canadians play [ice] hockey in the world championships?" I replied "sure." And so we did. One of my favourite baristas at my local coffee shop asked for a few stones from my trip. I collected five, and here are their stories.
The first pebble comes from the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. Most people buried here were Canadians (2339 Canadian graves), and in the entrance to the cemetery is a memorial wall that commemorates the names of 1047 missing men, 942 British, 102 Canadians, two South Africans, and one British airman. In front of the graves stands the 'Stone of Remembrance' with the text: 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'..
The second pebble is from Prague, Czech Republic, where I met St. John of Nepomuk. The story goes that he was thrown into the river Vltava after refusing to speak during an interrogation that was ordered by King Wenceslas IV, perhaps because the king was curious about the confessional secrets of the King’s wife Sophie (which she had shared with John of Nepomuk). After he refused to speak, he was tossed over the bridge and plunged to his death (although it was later revealed that he had been hit on the head before being tossed over), and his statue is located where he was thrown into the river. It is said that when his body surfaced, five starts appeared around his face, and this is how his statue is portrayed on the Charles River. St. John of Nepomuk is now the patron saint of all things water and as such, I touched the base of the statue for good luck as I prepare to swim Skaha lake in British Columbia, the largest lake in the Netherlands, called Ijsselmeer, and from Alcatraz to San Fran.
The third is from the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. This picture shows one of 27 crosses that are incorporated in the pavement to commemorate 27 lords and citizens who had been part of the Czech uprising (1618-1620) against the then ruling Habsburg dynasty. The nonconformists were defeated and 27 anti-Habsburg leaders were publicly executed.
Pebble #4 comes from Ostrava, where we went to cheer on the Canadians in the 2020 Junior World Hockey Tournament. The atmosphere was incredible ($2 pints helped) and there appeared to be more Canadians in the arena than opposing team fans.
The fifth and final one is from a terrain that holds two dolmens, or hunnebedden. These prehistoric graves (5000+ years old), built by peasant tribes, are found only in the northern province of Drenthe. The graves are made with enormously large stones (up to 40 tons each) that were brought here in the ice age. Fifty-four of these graves still exist.
Now that normalcy has (somewhat) returned, I am making plans. Not for marathons and also not for triathlons. I'm going for a swim. There are already a few 2020 swims on my wish list, Skaha Lake Ultra being one of them (12km) and also the Portland Bridge swim (17km) but I am hoping to do at least one epic one. Perhaps the Ijselmeer Marathon (22km), the biggest water crossing in The Netherlands. This lake used to be sea but turned into a lake after the Dutch damned it. This swim looks tough to get into, especially for foreigners but we'll see. Or I might try Lake Tahoe marathon, which is just under 35 kilometre (there are three routes, but I'd go for the longest. Go big or go home...). Lake Tahoe is a no wet-suit swim though, yet the lake is glacier fed, and I am not sure if my skinny bones can handle that (on average this swim takes 10-20 hours) but I am planning on swimming outdoors throughout winter to get more comfortable in cold waters (best way to prepare for cold water swimming is cold water swimming!). For now I am happy to have a new goal, new plans, and options. Since making this decision, I have been in the lake everyday, even though the days are getting darker and colder. Sometimes my friend and her two dogs, Louie and Jack, join me on her paddle board, which is awesome. I keep a log to look back on as I go. More on my swims will follow in the weeks to come...
I was registered with The Best in the West Triathlon Festival for last weekend for the half iron but was recently diagnosed with bradycardia, a condition where your resting heart is so low (in my case below 40 beats per minute) that any exercise can lead to cardiac arrest, so that was that for the half iron. Asking my doctor how she felt about it if I paired all the way down to a sprint, she said "sure, if you have a death wish." Which I don't so that was that. But my friend and I had planned it, plus I badly needed a break from an intense home improvement project so we decided to go after all. Bend Oregon was our first stop. Awesome place, dog capital of Oregon. Here we tasted wine, hiked, and shopped all things dog.
From there a visit to Sisters (big disappointment, don't let the Internet fool you. I'm sure it was a cute place at some point but now it's just kitsch) and from there to a stay at a small winery. We hiked just outside of Bend and in an original forest along the route to Cheshire Oregon.
Next stop was Eugene where I did glass art for dummies. Paper weight. But it's a gorgeous paper weight and it's mine and I had fun making it.
Now back home in Vancouver. Normalcy appears to be returning. Home improvement project is coming to an end, as is my heart condition. Time to make some plans....
Photo credit: davidpwhelan at Morgue File
We're at Lake Mead once more. Summer time at Lake Mead is unforgiving; temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius, which increases as summer goes by. I recently learned that the area host an incredible number of animals who have adapted to the harsh environment. There are numerous amphibians and reptiles, including the Gila Monster, different snakes, there are 19 species of bats, there are big horn sheep, mountain lions, many different fish in the lake, beavers, name it. They have adapted to the harsh environment and make it work. There is also a large population of Turkey Vultures (oddly not mentioned on Lake Mead National Park's website. And I looked up animals at Lake Mead because I wondered, what can here possibly live (and die) to support such a large population of Turkey Vultures? Well, a lot. I find these birds incredible. We have them in Canada, but I have only seen them in Squamish; here they are in abundance (madly protected thankfully; $15,000 US fine or 6 months in prison for taking one). They are gorgeous. Their wing span can be as wide as 6 feet, and they are masters at gliding the warm air, effortlessly looking from above, or more, smelling from above for their next meal; they have an amazing nose (unusual for a bird) and they smell out their next meal, keeping the desert clean and free of rabies. They are so good at smelling out a meal that other vultures such as Black Vultures join them for guidance toward the next go-to place.
This very early morning, one last swim in Lake Mead, and there were these four youngsters to welcome me to the shore. Turkey Vultures lower their body temperatures at night (to just over 1 degree Celsius) to preserve energy, so they are hypothermic when they wake up. They sat there quietly throughout my swim, and I speculated that they were warming up a little before disappearing into the skies, riding those thermals again.
This winter and early spring we have been between BC and Alberta, and while in Alberta in a small town north of Calgary. At first the days were long and lonely and cold. Yet, as I wrote before, even a nomad likes to have a sense of community, and I joined a triathlon club and a gym. Working hard towards big goals (sprint tri, Olympic tri, then half iron in fall), I quickly became part of the 'in crowd,' a group of tough and committed gym rats. I met Virginia there, a retired 'letter carrier' as she called herself, who, as a result of her days carrying letters in all weather conditions would predict snow for me, or wind, or whatever she felt in her bones and who enjoyed cooking good food just as much as me. At 73, she kicks the asses of women a fraction her age in bodypump. There was Carley, my favourite spin instructor of all times, who always reminded us that we are beautiful and that for that reason, we keep our heads up, always, so that these faces are seen no matter how tired. I bought speed skates and skated, for the first time in decades, on the many free outdoor rinks in this town, rusty but determined. And there were the regulars in the city's rinks on the free public skate on Wednesday afternoon who became my cheerleaders as I slowly dusted off the rust. There was Cora's, where we could leisurely finish breakfast even after realising that we forgot our wallets to come back later and pay, any time really. I met Jeanne, who showed me beautiful countryside roads to bike in spring. Yet, as the song goes, our door is always open and our path is free to walk. As we get ready to leave once again, I feel a sense of nostalgia for this small and friendly place that, for the time I was here, took me in as one of their own. Also as the song goes, I will keep this small town on its countryside's back roads, by the rivers of my memory, ever smilin' ever gentle on my mind...
On my first trip to Montana I looked for it but missed it. Not this past weekend. The story goes that this tree, a Limber Pine, just outside of the town on Burmis, died in the 70s after living some 600 to 750 years. Limber Pines are among the longest lasting trees in Alberta. After it died it stayed in its spot until it was blown over in 1998 by strong winds. The residents of Burmis did not want to keep it in pieces on the ground, and, with help of Alberta Culture, Historic Sites, put the tree back together with the use of stainless steel rods and brackets. Then vandals cut off a branch in 2004, but residents again fixed it, using glue and a prop pole this time. When a new Highway 3 was built, residents rallied successfully and the road was built around the heritage site that the tree has become. A Wikipedia entry closes with the line "The tree remains as the sole point of interest in the once prosperous town of Burmis." I love this story and was glad I caught the tree the second time around.
After catching the Burmis Tree, sole point of interest, another trip to Montana where I fell even more in love with the big skies and wide open spaces.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter
photo credit sasint, from Pixabay
In Calgary, week 3. Joined the Calgary YMCA last week and am loving the classes; I am sore as hell, but I enjoy being around people, talking to people, getting to know a few people, and I enjoy getting fit and strong again after a break. I make small talk with everyone at the Y, and tell everyone how new I am to Calgary and Alberta. And to the cold. This morning I was at the coffee shop, working, my usual morning hangout, and one of the instructors of a class I attended came up to me to say hi. We chatted for a while, and as I walked over to the Y for my next class I thought about how even now that I travel, having a sense of community is good. In Nevada it was Frankie, in Langley it was Uli and Joan and Brian, here it is the coffee shop early morning crew and the Y instructors and members. I guess even nomads need to make and feel community from time to time.
Two weeks in Calgary and my days have started to feel long and lonely. The sun rises late and sets early, so the days are dark too. And cold. But today I took the truck and went for a drive, felt good to be on the road again and feel free. Horseshoe Canyon, my destination, turned out to be closed, and instead I drove through the badlands. The landscapes here are incredible; wheat fields as far as the eye can see and massive skies. Gorgeous. I did not find the "scenic" dinosaur drive scenic, so I drove back to Drumheller, bought a single beer, and, as a good ol' redneck Albertan, parked the truck on a dirt road, and drank the beer while, obviously, listening to blue grass. I did not get to where I had set out to go, but, as the song went, it was good enough.
On our way to Montana we drove one car behind you. I remember it as if it happened in slow motion; the oncoming small white car drifting into your lane, as if trying to make a left hand turn. My friend screamed in disbelief and then there was the roar of impact and your truck was in the air. You landed in the ditch, in an odd V-shape. Your engine was on the road, your wheels had come off. Brake fluid and diesel covered the road. I called 911, my voice trembling. I believed in that moment that you were either dead or very close to it. My friend took over the call to give the dispatcher the coordinates of the scene, and he was asked to ask you your age. You lifted your head off the steering wheel and whispered 18 without opening your eyes. Your truck was old, no airbags, and we could see that you had broken your nose and you were also bleeding from your head and your mouth. Your legs were trapped in the crumpled up cab. First responders arrived. We made a witness statement and then we left.
I have not been able to shake seeing the violence of the impact, the vision of your truck flying through the air and crashing into the ditch, seeing you rest your bleeding forehead on the steering wheel as you waited for help, de guy who had been driving right behind you and in front of us talking to you through the broken window. The hospitals I called were unable to tell me anything about you or where you are, but tonight the RCMP called me back. You will be okay. I sent you the On the Rocks flower arrangement in this photo. The florist was touched by your story and went out of her way to find you in the hospital. Today it will be delivered. I hope that you like it and that knowing that there are people out there, strangers, who are rooting for you, brightens your day a little...
photo credit Funky Petals @ http://funkypetals.com/
Gerda & Gary
Gerda is a scholar, academic editor, and writer. Gary was homeless in Nevada, but is now the new man in Gerda's life.